Litstack Recs: Vanity Fair & Slade House

by Lauren Alwan

Slade House, by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is an amazing novelist (NPR reviewer Jason Sheehan calls his writing “beautifully twisty.”  I like that.) With unique works such as 2004’s Cloud Atlas and 2014’s The Bone Clocks under his belt, the question is, what does he do next?

The answer is Slade House, a slim book housing a horror story that, true to David Mitchell’s style, echoes themes and ideas from earlier works (specifically, The Bone Clocks), twists and turns around itself, and in this case, brings chills to readers.

Slade House grew out of a short story, “The Right Sort”, that he wrote in 2014 on Twitter (that’s right – on Twitter:  280 tweets of 140 words or less); it became the first section of the novel. “It [the short story] was writing a long, fast string of pulses rather than looking down on the narrative with a slower, more leisurely view,” Mitchell said in a 2015 interview for the Miami Herald. “I found that it was asking more questions than it was raising.In the end, I couldn’t resist translating it back to more conventional prose, oxygenating it more than Twitter was allowing me to.”

Let’s be glad he did; Slade House is a truly scary read, one that can be devoured in one sitting or savored  in sections – five sections, in fact, set nine years apart (the reason for this quickly becomes clear). Each one offers an interlacing plot, with a different tailor-made nightmare, leading to an inevitable rending conclusion.

It’s 1979 when 13 year old (and totally disinterested) Nathan Bishop and his mother make their one-way passage through the black iron door that leads to Slade House, to attend a soiree hosted by the aristocratic Lady Grayer. In 1988, Inspector Gordon Edmonds vanishes while checking out a new lead in the Bishop disappearances. In 1997, a group of students calling themselves the Paranormal Society meet at The Fox and Hound Tavern to investigate “the Slade Alley disappearances” and are never seen again. In 2006, a reporter meets with a crazed old man who says he has information about the “X Files Six” (as the missing students have come to be known – one of which was the reporter’s younger sister), leading to the reporter himself vanishing without a trace. In 2015, psychiatrist Dr. Iris Marinus-Fenby (whose name should be familiar to readers of The Bone Clocks), author of academic papers on abduction psychoses, is lured to Slade Alley by the promise of being able to witness an actual operating orison (a kind of reality bubble). What she finds on the other side of the black iron door is perhaps that most startling of all.

The voice of the narrators in each section – doped up (and possibly autistic?) Nathan Bishop, lonely, racist Detective Edmonds, naive, tender-hearted student Sally Timms, etc. – are each distinct, each achingly real, each so very human. For each of them, Slade House appears at first not only as non-threatening, but as a kind of timely wonderland, holding such promise that even finely honed suspicions are chipped away at until defenses are dropped. What is offered within Slade House is hope – for stability, for love, for notoriety, for redemption – and that hope is the very ointment that ends up catching each of them like flies in a spider web.

Chilling – and very, very entertaining.

—Sharon Browning

Related Posts